ISLAMABAD, Dec 23: Trophy hunting as a sport remains controversial, but local conservationists and the wildlife department claim that the sports introduction in the 1990s has helped bring down poaching of wild mountain goats in the country.
Hence, this year too at least 48 permits have been issued on exorbitant fees to legally hunt wild goats.
“Markhors, Himalayan ibex and urial can today be spotted on steep slopes along the road when traveling in the northern areas,” said Dr Ejaz Ahmad, director World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Lahore, explaining how the population of mountain goats has multiplied in recent years through sustainable hunting tourism.
His assertion is strongly backed by figures: In 1986, there were less than 200 Suleiman markhors and Afghan urials in their natural habitats in Balochistan, but a 2010 survey showed their populations had increased to 3,500 and 3,000, respectively.
Provincial wildlife departments are keen to attribute their growth to trophy hunting, which was started in 1993 in the Bar Valley of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The story goes that international NGOs and relevant wildlife departments realised that hunting four to five over-mature male mountain goats for a price did not harm the overall population.
Initially, the hunters came in from Europe and were charged $3,000 to $4,000 for hunting.
Soon the trophy hunting programme expanded from Gilgit-Baltistan to other provinces, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab.
When the provincial wildlife departments started auctioning permits, more money started to flow in.
The 2012-13 tentative quota for trophy hunting of one wild mountain goat sets the minimum fee at $40,000, and so far hunters from Russia, Canada and European countries are willing to spend that much without batting an eyelid. Last year, a hunter paid over $90,000 in an auction for a permit to hunt markhors.
According to the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife Pakistan (NCCW), an attached department of the Ministry of Climate Change, 80 per cent of the money from permits sold went to the local communities. The remaining amount was adjusted in departmental expenses.
An NCCW official explained that the price tag for the horns is high because Pakistan is the only country where trophy hunting is permitted by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The CITES treaty drafted in 1963 aimed to ensure that international trade in species of wild animals and plants did not threaten the survival of the species in the wild.
The wild mountain goat (markhor/urial) population in India, Afghanistan, and Central Asian states are still critically endangered and their hunting not allowed by CITES.
The trophy hunting programme has worked out so well, according to the NCCW, that in recognition of conservation performances in 2010 the ‘Markhor Award’ introduced by the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) went to the region of Torghar in Balochistan, home of the rare straight-horned and flare-horned markhors and urials.
Sardar Naseer Tareen, in-charge of the Torghar Conservation Programme, explained that survival of animals was dependent on communities.
“The Markhor population is far better than before, from Punjab all the way up to the northern areas,” said Mr Tareen, who has been overlooking the trophy hunting programme since its inception in 1985-86.
Although the practice discouraged poaching, trophy hunting is still scorned by wildlife lovers as legal genocide and an intervention in nature.
Senator Rubina Khalid, member of the Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change, opined that politicians and bureaucrats facilitated and entertained their foreign guests in the name of trophy hunting and the concerned communities got nothing.
Earlier, speaking against trophy hunting strongly, Senator Khalid said, “It is strange that we are giving licences to foreigners to kill precious wildlife instead of protecting and preserving it.”
Nonetheless, the government has allowed the auction of 12 permits to hunt markhor, mountain goats, 19 for Balochistan urial hunts, for 12 Punjab urial hunts and five permits to hunt Sindh urials.